Charters & Choice

Last week marked the beginning of the annual New York State English and math tests for grades 3–8. While Catholic schools (and their teachers’ unions) have largely stayed out of the political fray when it comes to standards and testing, we at the Partnership Schools—a network of six urban Catholic schools in Harlem and the South Bronx—voluntarily participate in the New York Common Core assessments.

Catholic schools have long been unapologetic supporters of high standards for all children, and we at the Partnership use results from the New York tests both to ensure that we are keeping expectations high for our students and to benchmark our students’ academic growth.

In an age when some people are opting out, we are opting in.

Of course, we’re aware of the pushback against standards and tests, particularly in our home state of New York. But we believe that pushback is misguided and that the opt-out movement is misleading parents. In particular, it is using tests as a scapegoat for implementation decisions that are mostly within the power of educators and education leaders to change.

As choice schools, we’re fortunate. Our parents—many of whom come from the nation’s poorest congressional district—opt into our schools. And...

It’s not really a surprise that the progress of school choice at the state level is so often tethered to the fortunes of Republican lawmakers. A number of Democratic interest groups (teachers’ unions chief among them, though they’re certainly not alone) have traditionally lined up against charter schools and voucher initiatives, and down-ballot officeholders have been slow to follow the lead of national figures (and charter fans) like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. That’s why it’s so striking to observe this month’s developments in Maryland, where an overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature has teamed up with the GOP to carve out new funding for private school scholarships aimed at low-income students. It’s important to keep a sense of proportion; the initiative accounts for just $5 million out of a $42 billion state budget, and legislators rejected a far more ambitious proposal for private school tax credits. Still, the move is a major step forward for private schools of choice in the Old Line State.

With New York City authorities already facing serious questions about student safety, the country’s biggest school district must now address a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of students who have been the victims of...

Now that New York’s students are heading into another year of Common Core-aligned standardized testing, it’s probably time to start taking bets on exactly how many kids will actually show up. With last year’s opt-out numbers reaching a staggering 20 percent and a new Regents chancellor claiming that she’d keep her own kids from taking the exams, assessment boosters might be wondering if anyone’s willing to speak up for the joy of filling in tiny bubbles. If so, they’ve found perhaps the least surprising champion in Success Academy honcho Eva Moskowitz, who gave a stridently pro-assessment interview last week following a pre-test pep rally in Harlem. “We need to know how the most affluent communities are performing and whether our kids can do as well as those—and you can’t do that with internal assessments,” she noted. Her arguments were later echoed by old pal Al Sharpton—you remember, the guy who memorably roasted her for protesting Mayor de Blasio’s charter policies. The good reverend is now on the record imploring students to take the tests and expose gaps in achievement. See? Testing was always meant to bring people together.

Chicago kids looking to enjoy a...

Policy wonks and political prognosticators have begun to forecast the collateral damage that is apt to follow if Donald Trump manages—in spite of himself, and notwithstanding his Wisconsin setback—to win the Republican nomination, damaging not only GOP prospects for retrieving the White House but also the party’s odds of prevailing in innumerable races for Congress and for state (and even local) leadership. Following in the wake of those generally dire prognostications are early conjectures about the policy shifts that may ensue in sundry realms both international and domestic if Democrats are positioned to chart the future course.

For education reformers parsing this prospect, it’s useful first to recall the many worthy changes that followed the GOP’s 2010 sweep of a galaxy of state and federal offices (obviously omitting the one that’s ovular). Though nothing in the list below is (from my perspective) perfect, it’s hard to picture many—perhaps any—of these things happening had Republicans not been in positions of influence:

  • New assessments in most states, geared to higher academic standards and featuring higher “cut scores” that correspond more accurately and honestly to the actual demands of college, career, and international competitiveness
  • Accelerating the spread of school choice, both the public version (typically
  • ...

The Lovitz edition

On this week's podcast, Robert Pondiscio and Alyssa Schwenk discuss Sean "Diddy" Combs's new Harlem charter school, the fizzling out of the Friedrichs Supreme Court case, and America's lack of effective teacher training. During the Research Minute, Amber Northern reviews the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education.

Amber's Research Minute

"The 2016 Brown Center Report: How Well Are American Students Learning?," Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings (March 2016).

The March Madness edition

In this week’s podcast, Alyssa Schwenk and Brandon Wright discuss Washington State’s new charter school bill, John Kasich’s education record, and the use of on-topic streaming video in classrooms. In the Research Minute, David Griffith explains the benefits of grouping high-IQ kids with high-achievers.

Amber's Research Minute

David Card and Laura Giuliano, "Can Tracking Raise the Test Scores of High-Ability Minority Students?" NBER (March 2016).

Last week, we noted the departure of New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, essentially the face of the state’s rushed reform efforts over the past five years. This week, we learned who will step into the big chair, and the news isn’t wholly reassuring. Betty Rosa, the former Bronx principal and superintendent who is replacing Tisch, is the hand-picked choice of Common Core foes and a veteran of the testing wars. After winning a unanimous 15-0 confirmation vote, she announced that, were she a parent instead of a regent, she would choose to opt her own children out of state tests. That’s a potentially harmful claim in a state where 20 percent of eligible students were kept from participating in the assessments last year. The Tisch-Cuomo team certainly wasn’t a blameless player in the Common Core saga; the former chancellor has herself acknowledged the error in linking the brand-new tests to teacher evaluations, which led to an uproar among the state’s unionized instructors. But swinging too far to the other extreme by undercutting the standards won’t bring the city’s schools any closer to the accountability they desperately need.

You have to wonder how many times...

National news outlets including SlatePoliticoEsquire, and the Washington Post have predicted that charter schools might be a growing thorn in Governor John Kasich’s side as he competes for the Republican presidential nomination. Kasich is being criticized for the overall poor performance of Ohio’s charter school sector, as well as for last year’s scandal over authorizer evaluations and its aftermath (including a hold placed on Ohio’s $71 million federal Charter School Program grant).

But by calling charters Kasich’s “little problem back home”—or, more boldly, claiming that his track record with them is “terrible”—national reporters are missing big pieces of the story. If these journalists had dug a little deeper, they would have realized that Kasich mostly deserves praise, not scorn, for the steps he’s taken to improve Ohio charter schools. In fact, any real examination of the candidate’s record on charters would reveal that no Ohio governor has worked harder to strengthen oversight of the charter school sector.

Kasich inherited a charter sector that was notorious for conflicts of interest, regulatory loopholes, self-dealing, and domination by powerful special interests. The mediocre performance of Ohio’s charter sector precedes Kasich’s tenure as well: CREDO’s 2009 charter study rated Ohio among the lowest-performing states.

In his first year in...

  • Merryl Tisch, who is stepping down as chancellor of New York’s Board of Regents, gave a valedictory interview to the New York Times last week. As head of one of the foremost educational authorities in the state, she will principally be remembered for championing and helping implement the Common Core State Standards and a new teacher evaluation system alongside New York State Education Commissioner John King (confirmed Monday as secretary of education). Her efforts led to some necessary improvements in curriculum and instruction across the state, but they didn’t come without a backlash: Roughly one-fifth of all eligible students were kept out of the new tests by their parents last spring, and unions revolted over the Regents’ recommendation to link teacher evaluations to student scores. Now, with Governor Andrew Cuomo backing slowly away from that notion and an opt-out favorite in line to replace Tisch as chancellor, the movement for high standards looks like it’s undergoing a reset in the Empire State. It’s up to both local leaders and national reformers to make sure that new players don’t change matters for the worse.
  • You may be wondering why, after many months and approximately eight thousand primary
  • ...

The Aristotle edition

In this week’s podcast, Mike Petrilli welcomes guest host Dan Scoggin, founder of Great Hearts Academies charter schools. They discuss whether Senator Bernie Sanders misunderstands how charter schools function, how schools like Great Hearts can serve students from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, and what the U.S. Department of Education might look like if Ben Carson were Secretary. In the Research Minute, Amber Northern examines the long term effects of disruptive peers in American classrooms.

Amber's Research Minute

Scott E. Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, and Elira Kuka, "The Long-Run Effects of Disruptive Peers," NBER (February 2016).